October 10, 2017 – Fin Donnelly, Federal MP & President, Rivershed Society of BC

Fin Donnelly, Federal MP & President, Rivershed Society of BC

Fin Donnelly is a Canadian politician, who was elected to the House of Commons of Canada to represent the electoral district of Port Moody—Coquitlam. He is a member of the New Democratic Party. Donnelly was first elected as a member of parliament in a by-election on November 9, 2009, in the New Westminster—Coquitlam electoral district. In the one year he spent in the 40th Canadian Parliament, he acted as the party’s fisheries critic and introduced six private member bills. He was re-elected in 2011 and in the ensuing 41st Parliament he re-introduced the same six bills, two of which, concerning the crime of luring a child were adopted, were adopted in the Safe Streets and Communities Act. He also introduced the bill titled Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act which was voted upon but defeated by the Conservative Party majority. He acted was the official opposition’s critic on Fisheries and Oceans until the 2012 leadership election after which Tom Mulcair moved him over to critic on Western Economic Diversification and then demoted him to role of deputy critic. Donnelly again won re-election in the 2015 federal election and was promoted back to fisheries critic. In the 42nd Parliament he re-introduced his previous bill to make closed containment facilities mandatory for commercial finfish aquaculture but the bill was defeated.


Transcript of Fin Donnelly’s Talk

My name is Fin Donnelly and I am the Member of Parliament for Port Moody—Coquitlam. I’ve been a Member of Parliament for nine years and as John mentioned I am also the NDP Critic for Fisheries, Oceans and Coast Guard. I’m the vice chair of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans I’m also the co-chair and founding chair of the All-Party Oceans Caucus.

There’s a lot of attention in Ottawa on fisheries but not as much, but growing attention, on oceans so I felt the need to form an oceans caucus which has been doing really good work since 2012.

I am the chair of the River Society of British Columbia, a non-profit which I founded in 1996 and have been doing that work for over two decades.

I was bestowed the honour of the name Iyim Yewyews which means “strong swimmer in the animal world” or “orca.” The Squamish nation gave me that name in 1997. It was a huge honour to be given that name because the orca is the steward of the sea and they ensure that the salmon are plentiful. Obviously whales feed on salmon so there’s that connection. The elders gave me that title for that reason, to look after the salmon and look after the sea and their connection to the rivers.

I was born in New Westminster, the Royal City, I grew up in Port Moody and now live in Coquitlam. I attended the University of Victoria and got a philosophy degree but over the four years at university I really started to learn about the issues that British Columbia, Canada and the world was facing regarding our activities and the environment. I really started to learn about the issues facing our environment. There are often two ways that people can connect with the environment. One is a very experiential connection with the environment. You go off to the oceans, rivers, mountains or forests and you have this connection and appreciation with nature. The other way, and the way I started to develop an appreciation for nature, is learning the issues and learning about the impact that our population has on the planet. That really affected what I did and who I am. As a kid I did a number of sports including soccer, volleyball and skiing. I obviously got into swimming and had a 16-year-swimming career. I tried to make the Olympic team on two occasions, which was my goal as you can see in this early news clipping. In 1984 and 1988 I tried to make the Olympic team and I came very close in 1988 when I made the finals but didn’t make it. In 1989 I made the national team and won four gold medals on an international swim meet and finished my 16-year career on that high note.

Swimming ended up turning into more than just something I did as a competitive swimmer, it turned into a life journey. After the University of Victoria I did a number of swims. From 1990 to 2000 I made 14 environmental marathon swims covering 3,200 kilometres of BC’s rivers and oceans. It started with ocean crossing: four times across Strait of Georgia and once across Strait of Juan de Fuca. In 1995 I swam the length of the Fraser River, my longest swim, which changed my life. At that point in 1995 I had only done one-day swims. That’s what I was used to. Crossing the Strait of Georgia went anywhere from eight to 13 hours depending on what kind of truck you use (editor’s note: this caused considerable laughter from the audience!) Taking on the Fraser River–even downstream–was an extremely tough challenge for me. I had no idea if I would make it but to use a double negative I had no idea if I couldn’t make it. That spirit and that pushing that I had as a swimmer kept me going. The motivation for doing it, is what I learned at the University of Victoria about the issues we were facing in terms of the environment. I called this first swim the Swim for Life and it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It was 1,400 kilometres and 21 days. Twenty days of swimming and one day of rest. The first day was eight and a half hours in six degree Celsius water. Even though I was wearing a full wetsuit, gloves and headgear, I was hypothermic, exhausted and thinking I had three more weeks to go.

Of course, I was thinking about my goals, when I got down to Prince George or Hope and trying to finish. After that first day of swimming I had to recalibrate very quickly and all I could do was think about what I was going to do to get through the next day.

The next morning, after a night’s sleep, I put my cold wetsuit back on and slid into the cold water and swam off to try to make it to McBride, which I did. Luckily that was an eight-hour swim day so it was a little shorter than the previous day. I felt a little bit better on the third day when I went from Dunster to Crescent Spur in 13 and a half hours. That was the day I knew, after I made it that long and felt that I was halfway to Prince George, that I could finish this swim. That was when I became extremely passionate about the river and the challenges we face. I wanted to embrace this challenge.

The Fraser River basin comprises almost one quarter of British Columbia. It’s a huge area that’s significantly important to British Columbia’s development from a First Nation and Canadian perspective in terms of our history and economy. Also, there’s incredible biodiversity. It’s one of the most bio-diverse river basins on the planet but certainly in North America. You can see the river basin that it’s up next to; Columbia in the south; Mackenzie to the north; and the Skeena, Nass, Stikine, Tako and the Yukon. These are the large river basins. Our work and my work has been mostly focused in that area and that’s what I’ll come back to at the end of the presentation.

The Rivershed Society was formed in 1996 after that Fraser River swim, to continue the work that was started with the swim. We have a vision of salmon flourishing in rivers and people flourishing in river sheds. That concept around that hydrology is what we are trying to encourage people to consider as well as community and the way we do business, whether it’s forestry, fishing, mining or any kind of development, is that we consider the hydrological perspective of the watershed. One of the key elements in British Columbia is salmon. Salmon are in trouble so using the salmon to measure our success and health is certainly the organization’s vision. Our mission is to conserve, protect and restore B.C.’s river sheds within a generation. It’s an ambitious mission and goal that we are trying to do. We have a number of programs that we’re doing that in.

After I re-swam the Fraser River in 2000 my life took a different track. I continued the work in the non-profit society on conservation but at that time I had been asked for the third time to run for city council and when I talked to my wife she said, “This is probably a good time.” I said no in 1996 because I was forming the organization and I said no in 1999 because I was going to re-swim the Fraser but in 2002 I ended up saying yes. I ran for Coquitlam city council and got elected. You might ask what a community like Coquitlam has to do with salmon and conservation issues. Well, communities like Coquitlam which are on the front line of the Fraser River are on the front lines of habitat. We are a fast growing community, so in many areas of Coquitlam natural habitat was being replaced by housing. You had that constant pressure between human habitat and natural habitat. That is what brought me to office, getting that balance right. That’s a microcosm for the larger problem that we face on the planet which is how we maintain the balance of clean air, and all the things that the ecosystems service which are provided by nature as well as the things we need as a human society, including our communities, housing, clothing and food. It’s a very difficult challenge but one that I wanted to dedicate my life to. I started locally.

I will share a few highlights. They are not all environmental or conservation related but I think they are important in terms of what I focused on. One of the things we needed in Coquitlam that we didn’t have and that other communities like Vancouver and Burnaby already had, was a social planner who considered the human element to our planning. I fought for that in the budget and managed to get funding by convincing enough of my colleagues that we needed a social planner.

The second thing was a hard fought fight over streamside protection regulations. That was providing enough protection along the river courses or creeks so that development occurs outside the riparian area. In Coquitlam we eventually got streamside protection regulations in place and that was largely due to my advocacy in pushing and working with staff. In politics it’s often the very small gains that make a difference and you can get those gains in odd ways at times. For me it was an official community plan text amendment. When I saw the wording of this one particular line it said, “water-shed plans should happen before or during development plan.” I thought, “why would we do a watershed plan during a development plan?” I made a text amendment to remove the words, “or during” and my colleagues weren’t sure because in Coquitlam we were very much split. Four or five of the nine council members would often vote for development and four or five would often find themselves on the environment side of the debate. Removing those two words, “or during” left some of my colleagues scratching their heads saying, “it makes sense but I’m not sure if I support it.”

I got enough of them to support it and that little change, that now read, “watershed plans will happen before development plans” became a significant change not only for the city but the province. If you know a little about city politics they often look at each other and ask, “what are you doing over there?”

Once Coquitlam went forth with that text amendment on their official community plan other cities started to pay attention to the fact that Coquitlam is starting to do their watershed plan in advance of their development plans. That small little change ended up making a large difference. You never know where you make these little changes and the ramifications that they can have. I feel quite proud of that. I didn’t realize the significance of that change until 10 years later when Kim Stevens, the executive director of the Partners for Watershed Sustainability of BC, pointed out that they followed that text amendment and started to encourage other cities to do the same and they did.

He reminded me of that at a conference and I thought, “wow” because I didn’t realize the significance of that change until that time. I now provide that as a highlight of my seven-year career as a politician at the local level.

One last thing at the local level that I will mention is when I was also on the board of the Greater Vancouver Regional District in 2005. At the time, San Francisco was looking at moving towards zero waste. I embraced that and brought it to the GVRD in the form of a motion for a zero waste goal. That had enough interest to go to committee and at committee there was some discussion about a zero waste goal and being too big of a leap to go to as a goal. There was another person on the committee from North Vancouver who asked, “what about making it a challenge?” That was a very interesting but slight change of a term and I accepted that as a friendly amendment.

That small change made a big difference because once I agreed and we called that the “zero waste challenge” it really started to ease the minds of both politicians and bureaucrats and it was unanimously approved by the board. This decision, made in 2005, has led the way for much change that is taking place at Metro Vancouver. The focus is on diversion and moving more and more waste out of the waste stream and into the recycle scene and ideally designing out those things that cannot be recycled. Now the term “circular economy” is being used and that’s what we are striving for. It really started with the Zero Waste Challenge, so I’m pretty proud of that.

In 2009 I was set to run for mayor in Coquitlam. I had a campaign and was working with a team and then I got a phone call from Jack Layton who asked me to join his federal team and I said, “no thanks, I’m about to run for mayor,” and he said, “that’s a laudable project but you can always come back for that, we need you at the national level.”

He was persistent, I will give him that, and even though I said no a couple of times he asked if he could keep calling me back and I said “sure.” Eventually, after talking with my wife and family, I thought this was a good opportunity to consider and decided to run for that by-election in 2009 which I won and went on to do another of thing that I am still doing as a member of Parliament.

I will talk about three things to highlight.

I have introduced a number of private member bills and have done a number of national campaigns around those bills. In 2010 and 2016, I introduced a bill focused on West Coast aquaculture, fin fish aquaculture, to transition the industry from open net pen technology to closed containment technology.

It received a lot of attention and a lot of support but ultimately it was defeated but that’s often the case with private members bills. But again, we were able to gain a lot of national attention. We had chiefs, school teachers, kids, researchers, scientists, business people and labour leaders. We also had folks like Alexandra Morton who had been working on this issue for years but it wasn’t until the star power of Captain Kirk himself when William Shatner got on board that the Ottawa media started to pay attention. So using that celebrity power can often make a difference. He’s an avid fisherman on the West Coast, he comes up to British Columbia and knows about salmon and the issues facing that and he was happy to lend his support to my bill. While it didn’t pass it continued to raise awareness and push the current government in terms of looking at closed containment now.

In early September there was an escape of farmed salmon from Cook Aquaculture in Washington which received a lot of media attention. It caused a problem for the federal government because the governor of Washington put an immediate moratorium on new licenses in Washington. There were First Nations calling for an emergency response to this and our minister basically said that he would continue to monitor the situation. That wasn’t good enough for a lot of advocates in British Columbia who continue to push him. In Question Period I asked if he was willing to look at this issue and act and he said he was open to all solutions. All solutions are on the table which means they are looking at land-based closed containment. It takes an awful long time to make change and those changes can often be very small changes with a very significant impact but you have to have persistence and keep with it. I guess it’s like swimming the Fraser, you got to keep with it.

Another private members bill that I’ll mention turns us to the oceans. In 2012 I read a report from the United Nations on the state of our oceans and it was alarming. The vast majority of marine scientists that have come together to say, “Our oceans are in trouble.” I was just in Malta last week for two days at an oceans conference which was opened by the Prince of Wales and Prince Albert of Monaco and closed by former US Secretary of State John Kerry. One of the alarming things mentioned during the conference was a statistic that said there would be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish by 2050. The photos of beaches in India and other places in the world were astounding. It doesn’t mean there aren’t micro plastics in our water, there are, but it is a huge problem. One other problem is that we are losing predators and large fish at an alarming rate. I didn’t realize this but between 30 and as high as 100 million sharks a year are being killed for their fins. I didn’t even know there were 100 million sharks in the ocean and this is how many are being killed for their fins according to scientific estimates. Much of this market is driven by organized crime. It’s a huge problem so I wanted to draw attention to the oceans and the importance of the oceans. Canada is an ocean nation. We’re bounded on three sides by ocean and we have the longest coastline in the world. The ocean is a significant part of Canada and predators like sharks play an incredibly important role so I brought forth a bill to ban the import of shark fins to Canada. Unfortunately that also failed when it went to vote, that was in a previous Parliament when we had a Conservative Party. It failed by five votes so it was extremely close and I had members of all parties supporting it including Conservatives but unfortunately I didn’t get enough Conservative members supporting it so it failed.

However, the anecdote there is that Mike MacDonald, a Conservative senator from Nova Scotia, has also introduced a private members bill in the Senate and if that passes, which seems likely, it will move to the lower house and then we’ll be in a very interesting position when we have a Conservative senator sponsoring a bill which the previous Conservative government defeated, a Liberal government that was in opposition and supported my bill and a New Democrat caucus that is supportive as well. So, in theory we should have all parties lined up to support this when it hits the lower house. Stay tuned, we’ll see what happens.

Just finishing, I wanted to come back to the Rivershed Society on this dual track of public policy and conservation. The Sustainable Living Leadership Program is one of our main focuses. Since 2002 we have put almost 100 graduates through the program. They go on to have an amazing experience; it isn’t all swimming the river and they get to canoe in large 30-40 foot voyageur canoes. They canoe the upper portion of the Fraser River, they raft through the Fraser Canyon and then they take a canoe from Hope to Vancouver. It’s an amazing three week journey and an incredible experience. Not just for the landscapes, wildlife and plant life that you see but also the communities you go through and the people we expose the participants to. They meet incredible change makers in the different communities. It’s a fantastic program and I’m very proud of it. We are expanding next year. We want to have some of the graduates do regional programs so next summer we’ll have two graduates doing a two-day canoe program in the Lower Fraser from Fort Langley to Coquitlam and they are going to work with university students.

In 2019 we want to expand to the Fraser Canyon and work with the Xat??ll First Nation on a rafting program from just north of Williams Lake at Soda Creek down to Lillooet.

Hugh Chaun’s daughter Melissa, who is here today, is the events coordinator for the Rivershed Society and she is the main coordinator for FraserFEST, our community engagement program that was launched in 2014. We engage people through rafting, canoeing and walking. We also have educational programs as well as community events with First Nations, in the evening after we finish with the daily activities. This summer, for instance, we had a dinner with the Musqueam after a day of paddling and cycling. It’s a great way to connect people to their watershed. We’ve been working with eight Fraser River communities and we are focused on connecting people to their watershed so they learn and understand their watershed. We hope that that will encourage a better understanding of the important role of watershed ecosystems. We hope to demonstrate watershed leadership in FraserFEST. We also want to expand next summer, to increase the number of communities. So we’re going to look at adding four new communities to FraserFEST in our outreach. This is a huge amount of effort with a lot of moving parts and a lot of engagement in getting a number of people learning about their watershed.

And we want to encourage watershed CPR. What’s that? We’re using that analogy of health to apply to the environment and we are using the term of CPR to apply to watersheds.

I started the presentation by framing British Columbia with a hydrological perspective. That is, the importance of water and drawing boundaries around water flows or watersheds. I showed the river basins, I focused on the Fraser River basin. The Fraser River is made up of 34 riversheds. Those rivers are just the main river tributaries like the Nechako, the Thompson, the Quesnel, the Coquitlam, the Burnett, the Stave and the Harrison. There are 34 main river tributaries that we draw lines around and call riversheds.

So the 34 riversheds of the Fraser River basin is the area we work on and is the area we want to apply watershed CPR to. Our focus is on conservation, protection and restoration. We want to set goals on each of those areas. Conservation really focuses on; education, such as the leadership program; community engagement, advocacy and connections, FraserFest; protection talks about how we protect the land. That’s usually at the federal level with national parks, the provincial level with provincial protected or conservation areas and the local level as well. Additionally, a growing way to protect land is also taking place in First Nations with tribal parks.

So these are areas in which we are very excited about starting what we are calling right now the Fraser Initiatives which I feel will be a decades long initiative to apply water CPR to the Fraser which is going to be something I will continue to dedicate my life to.

The last area of health for the Fraser is restoration. Repairing the damage that’s been done and engaging the next generation in work related to restoring that river. We need people who are compensated so future generations of local economies that can benefit from that restoration work. So replanting trees and rebuilding our streams where they have been impacted and damaged.

It’s a big change.

As I was commuting here today from Coquitlam I was listening to CBC Radio and they were talking about New Zealand giving a river the rights of a person and there’s a number of courts around the world that have recognized this and a number of legislatures that are looking at this. It’s an interesting and provocative concept that’s a result of the change of our relationship with the planet. We now need to look at the environment and nature in a new and different way. I think it’s an exciting possibility looking forward to tackle these challenges which are overwhelming and huge, Things like climate change are so enormous that we cannot ignore this problem. So I’m taking those challenges at a local level and trying to again, thinking back to my first ‘95 swim, apply a positive health approach to how we make change in this beautiful province we live in.




Could you speak to the run of the river proposals over electric generation?

I think about 10 or 15 years ago run of the river in British Columbia came on the scene and because of the way it was implemented it became a very controversial project. In form it’s really an excellent idea and an excellent way to generate energy but what I think became the polarized problem was private versus public. It was the way it was being implemented. We enjoy public electricity in this province and so the thought of changing that to having more private generation was I think part of the obstacle it ran into. The idea of micro hydro and small-scale projects is a good idea, especially if it’s focused on providing energy in the local community. I think we must go to that kind of scale of energy. You look at the big projects in Northern British Columbia, Site C being the most controversial, is facing an uphill challenge with environmental and social license, First Nations challenges, farming issues and even an issue whether we need that electricity or not because our demand has been relatively flat over the last 10 years. Micro hydro and run of the river projects are going to look very attractive as we look at a renewable future whether it’s micro hydro, solar, tidal, wind or geothermal. We need to look at a range of solutions.

Who took the photographs of your trip?

We had a number of photographers. In 1995 we had a fellow named Ken Baker who was our photographer who came on the trip and then in 2000 a fellow named Paul van Peenen. Ken was a neighbour and he was a photographer as a passion and came on the trip because he was very willing to help out. Paul was a journalist and a photographer as well so he added a new dimension in 2000. There are a number photos by Doug Radies who is our senior facilitator in the leadership program and he is a talented photographer. There are may be others but those three are generally the photographers. They do amazing photographs and I can’t tell my story without their work.

Can much needed hydro for the province come along and meet development in concert with watershed CPR?

The fundamental answer is yes and we have to because we will always need power. We absolutely need that power but the question is how we get it. I unfortunately can’t disregard that political concept because that’s a reality and that’s a reality when you look at power generation or any kind of industry or extraction related issue, it’s going to face a political and public context as we are seeing. Those are the realities that companies and industry must keep in mind. Whether it’s hydro energy or oil and gas they will impact watersheds and they impact nature. We’re often talking about competing values, even on fish farms you have a competing value of farming salmon with the wild capture salmon. One industry is impacting another industry. With oil and gas or hydro you are impacting the fishing industry and many others whether it’s tourism. You are often hitting competing values and the thing that I like about the watershed and using the watershed as a unit. If you go back to First Nations they used heights of land for their hunting and fishing. Their traditional territories are often carved out by watersheds so the watershed is a nice unit to overlaying forestry plans, mining plans, hydro demands, urban development plans, ranching and farming. If you overlay it all onto one landscape, and I would argue that the watershed is an excellent landscape to use to develop your plans, it’s a good way to go. It doesn’t make the challenges any easier that’s for sure.

I grew up in New Westminster and consider it my home town and have a great affection for the Fraser River but it was always referred to as the “dirty Fraser.” Why is it dirty? Is that good, bad or are there things that should be done to improve it?

I think of the Lower Fraser that is absolutely the perspective of many people if they even know about the Fraser because often the Fraser is just considered an obstacle to get over to get to work or get back home. You have to cross a bridge or get around it. So the perspective of it being dirty is true. There are two issues though. For one, it’s muddy so there’s natural sediment that’s picked up where the canyon really starts to really come in which is around Quesnel. The natural sediment that comes in is common for a lot of big volume rivers. If you look at the Amazon River, for example, it’s muddy as well but what you’re talking about is dirty. When you get to the Lower Fraser the agricultural inputs from the Fraser Valley, the combined sewer overflows, the marine traffic and all of the inputs that come into the river make it a dirty river. The biggest issue in terms of pollution over the years has been sewage. Back in the 1990s it was actually the Conservative government that brought in the Green Plan to address that issue in many rivers, not just the Fraser, but certainly on the Fraser. They had a huge impact in turning that around, moving many small cities from direct raw sewage into the river to at least primary and ideally secondary treatment. That decade-long plan moved a lot of municipalities to cleaning up that river. It was a good thing that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney brought in. Since 2000 we have rolled back some of the regulations allowing pulp effluent back into the river. They had been making tremendous gains. So those chemicals and that amount input is what gives it that dirty quality or that perception that it’s not clean. Certainly when I swam the Lower Fraser people were saying, “that’s gross, what is that guy doing?” But that’s the reason I did the swim. I wanted to ask, “why is it that this incredibly important river has that perception, that I can’t even swim in it or that you wouldn’t let your kids swim in it?”
That’s what I’m hoping we change, that we make rivers swimmable again and make it fit for conditions for fish and that we make it something we can be proud of like they have done in England with the Thames. I believe we can do that right here in Canada with the Fraser.

Regarding fish farming I read that Atlantic salmon have been released in the Pacific through the years but have not survived. They were defeated by our Pacific salmon. I wonder if that has any validity. Also, are there countries that have successfully limited fish farming to land based containers?

Atlantic salmon are reared in farming conditions because they are strong and good at competing. It’s not known whether they have taken in BC waters. There have been escapes over the years of thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon in BC waters. However, they have not survived cycles. Scientists are still monitoring whether they are taking or not. They are going to be looking at up to 300,000 escapes to see what ends up happening with them and whether they spawn and continue the life cycle. So far the Pacific salmon have definitely outcompeted overall but the issue is also if they breed with Pacific salmon. So that is a cause of concern for the scientists. What we often say is we want to avoid these issues and use the precautionary principles. Why would we want to use the wild as a test case? So that’s where I fall and say let’s err on the side of caution here and not go down that role to see if it is a problem because once you find out that it is it’s really hard to turn it back. In terms of your question about other countries doing land-based closed containment. There are a number of examples including Canada doing closed containment. The ‘Namgis First Nation on Vancouver Island has a closed containment facility, there are two in eastern CanadSustainable Blue is, I think, the one to watch because they are looking at franchising. So once they get their model right they are going to look at how they implement it across the country. There’s a large Danish facility off the coast of Florida and Norway, the world’s leading farmer of fish, is also bringing in closed containment. They’ve actually changed the regulations to incentivize land-based containment and make it very difficult. It’s not impossible, but they haven’t had a new license for open net farms in Norway since they brought in the new regulation. They made that change because they cannot keep up with the impacts of sea lice and disease which is really driving the problem. It’s been too overwhelming of a problem in Norway. They have had to sterilize their rivers and it’s been so much of a problem that the government is now working with industry to shift to closed containment. It’s definitely the one to watch and I’ve been challenging our government to become world leaders in moving in this direction. When the world’s leading farmer is moving in that direction you know it’s a matter of time before the rest of the industry goes there.

What did you do in Hell’s Gate Canyon? Was that the most stressful part of your swim down the river?

I was definitely willing to take on a challenge swimming the river but it wasn’t going to be that much of a challenge to swim through Hell’s Gate. I swam right up to the north of the gate and you saw those large rafts that were travelling with me. I hopped on the raft and took a little ride through the gate and on the south side I jumped back in. But I will tell you about one harrowing experience I had on the second swim because on the first swim the owner of the rafting company wasn’t going to take any chances swimming through big rapids but on the second swim I had the fellow in the video you saw with the long hair, Shane, and he is a bit more of a river cowboy. As we were heading into what he knew was going to be a big rapid he asked, “Fin, do you think you can do this?” and I said, “I don’t know. Do you think I can do it?” and he said “yeah, I think you can do it.” So I said, “well, let’s give this a try.” Often those rapids are a result of restrictions or constrictions in the river so a boulder on the bottom, a bend in the river or a narrowing of the river valley. I was going into this one particular large standup wave where it was a bend, French Bar Rapids. It starts off small and gets larger and larger and I was trying to swim at the top of each of those waves and I got the second to last wave where I took a big breath and because I did that my hips went a little bit lower into the water, caught the faster flowing current just under the surface and that slammed me into the big standup wave which is higher than this ceiling. It was a large wave for me to be in and I went right into that wave and got pulled under momentarily even though I was wearing a lifejacket and a wet suit. It lasted for about four or five seconds. Shane claims that he could still see my red jacket through the muddy Fraser but I don’t think he could. Luckily I did pop back up and my eyes were wide open and my heart was racing. I calmly looked over at him and he had a big grin on his face. I said, “you didn’t tell me it was going to be like that!” and he looked over at me and said, “well you made it, didn’t you?”

What are your views on genetically modified fish farming?

Excellent question because I think that’s going to be an issue that the farming industry has a problem with. They claim they are opposed but I think there is going to be significant pressure on expanding closed containment through genetically modified salmon. Now the issue I have, because a lot of the science is not conclusive on that, is we have markets where that is a huge problem, the European Union being one of them. We just signed a deal with the European Union so if we are now going to sell genetically modified fish to a huge market that is going to be very concerned about our products we need to take that under consideration and I think we need to label our products. That’s where I would fall on that issue. That’s where the science needs to progress on that. My understanding is that there is a range of science. Again, the precautionary principle should apply. Once that genie gets out of the bottle then it’s very difficult to get it back if we find there’s a problem in 10 or 20 years. However, the government is saying that genetically modified salmon is okay to be raised in closed containment situations for scientific purposes. But it’s an eventuality before it gets to the markets to that might be the way for salmon to be raised if you want to eat genetically modified fish. That will be an interesting moral and social discussion but for now we aren’t doing that but I think we are going to be looking at that down the road.

What’s happening with the snow and glacier that feed the rivers?

This is a huge challenge because we are seeing the predictions of scientists from 10 or 15 years ago about climate change and how it would be impacting our weather patterns and the hydrological cycle. It’s changing. We’ve had a summer of drought. We’ve had the largest fires in British Columbia’s history in the Interior of the Fraser. Normally we get some rain to effect those fires. The fires are a natural occurrence but not necessarily on this scale and then we are also going to face floods. We are getting more and more floods that are happening in the Lower Mainland and the Fraser and they are flash floods.If you look at the last 20 years, a short amount of time, and you look at the last 10 years those droughts and floods are increasing even in the Fraser River basin and we’re losing our snow pack. We do gain snow but overall we are warming so that will have a huge impact on water supply into the future so we definitely need to monitor that.

I think five to 10 years ago there was a major court commission about the state of salmon in British Columbia with lots of experts on board. It’s my understanding that the recommendations came out about the same time as record run of salmon. This must have really effected how they implement recommendations.

Excellent question about the Cohen Commission. It was struck in 2009 which was the year when I ran and that’s not a coincidence. Stephen Harper decided that he wanted to try and win that by-election so he called that commission in an attempt to deal with the salmon situation and try to win that by-election. We turned that around pretty quickly and used that as an advantage to us in claiming victory before I even got into office. Politics is often theatre and that’s partly what we were doing. To your point that in the following year there was a large run. I won’t say a record run because I want to put it in context. Often my Conservative colleagues will say, “we had a record run of sockeye salmon up the Fraser the following year. Why do we need this Cohen Commission?” Prior to contact we had runs of a hundred million. That was normal in the dominant year because there are elders and others who remember the days when they could walk over rivers like the Adams and others that were thick with sockeye. So a 26 million return while it seems like a lot but when you compare it to the past couple of centuries is not great. In today’s terms it’s fantastic because when we are getting returns of under one million like we have this summer it seems like a lot. However, scientists are looking at the overall trend and some runs are doing better than others and some species are doing better than others so you really have to look at whether it’s sockeye or chinook or coho and whether it’s the Adams run or the Harrison run or whether it goes up in the Strait of Georgia or around Vancouver Island. You will quickly see that it paints a picture but I think the Cohen Commission was much needed. It was very important. It produced 75 recommendations and it provided a roadmap that any government could follow to start to address these issues. It will take political will and it will take resources and it will take the initiative of a government working with First Nations, the private sector, industry, labour and environmental organizations working together to tackle these tough problems.

But today’s government is claiming that they have addressed the vast majority of those. I would argue that we are not seeing meaningful change to the fishery on the West Coast. There is a still a long way to go before we can say that the Fraser fishery is on a good footing going forward.

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